Hanford Forum for Shared Conversation about Challenging Issues at Hanford

Hanford Challenge has been conducting the forum for the past 8 years. Thanks to the amazing committee that spends sleepless nights planning the forum events and ensure it runs smoothly. We thought it would be wonderful to share the summary of last years’ experience. The goal of the Forum is to build relationships and to have open, insightful discussions in ways that are absent from other Hanford arenas. Last year we organized it at Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth.

Forum Framing Statement: Aging infrastructure is a well-known issue at Hanford and across the nation. From Hanford tanks and pipelines, to bridges, highways, and water systems, infrastructure safely supports—or fails to support—our society’s day-to-day life.

At Hanford, there is literal infrastructure, such as facilities and tanks; and figurative infrastructure, such as the processes and methodologies we use to make and implement cleanup decisions. With almost 50 years of production and nearly 30 years of cleanup, a unique language has emerged around Hanford. But it’s more than language: it includes science and engineering, a fair bit of art, traditions and customs, tenets and philosophies, system loyalties and beliefs, lore and legend, and Hanford’s beloved acronyms.


At this Forum, we are going to look both forward and back to examine the features that are necessary to overcome barriers and drive success. We will also acknowledge that, in a cleanup with the scope and breadth of Hanford, the decision-making process isn’t static—constant attention, maintenance, engagement and, at times, overhaul, are necessary to ensure that it gets better, not worse, over time.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Introductions and Why We’re Here

We started this year’s Forum with introductions using a “speed dating” introduction game. Everyone was in rotating groups of three and had two minutes per group for introductions before switching to a new group. Participants were invited to share their background, connection with Hanford, why they were here, and anything else they would like known.

Following this exercise, we reset the room and Todd Martin, our facilitator, reviewed where the Forum came from and ground rules, and introduced the Steering Committee members.  Todd shared that a theme that came up through the Steering Committee in preparation is the disappearance of hall talk, and a hope that the hall talk could be resurrected here.


  • Cleanup is at risk.
  • Hall talk doesn’t have a place to live.
  • We’re all in this together.

Ground Rules:

  • No grandstanding.
  • No attribution.
  • No bashing.

We oriented everyone to the basic agenda and invited everyone to continue their introductions informally for the rest of the evening. Lynn (our facilitator along with Todd) and Todd shared that the morning session would be a time for setting a common base of knowledge before we kicked off small and large group discussions. Lynn invited newer folks to think about what are some of the things you would like to know or hear more about at the Forum?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Todd kicked off the morning session with a story about the Vienna sausage company.

On the south side of Chicago, in 1893, the Vienna Sausage Company began making naturally cased, hickory smoked old world style hot dogs. In 1970, the company replaced its south side facility with a brand-new state-of-the-art facility on the north side. Despite the process and ingredients being exactly the same, the hot dogs were different. They didn’t have the right snap when bitten into, and they were pink in color, instead of the desired red. For two years, the company’s hot dog making experts tried, unsuccessfully, to determine what was different.

One night at their favorite bar, some of the factory employees were talking about the good old days and telling stories about Irving, who had worked forever in the old plant. Every day, Irving would pick up the raw hot dogs and walk them through the room where the pastrami was produced, then through the boiler room, then past the tanks where the corned beef is cooked, and, ultimately, to the smoke house where the hot dogs were cooked.

But there’s no Irving in the fancy new modern plant, he retired when the new plant was built because he didn’t want to commute to the north side. In the new plant, the sausages sit in a cooler until they are cooked, there’s no half hour journey through multiple warm rooms, which was the missing ingredient that made the hot dogs red and gave them their snap. So, the company built a new room, “Irving’s corner,” in the new plant to simulate the warming of the hot dogs that occurred during Irving’s trip and the hot dogs were back to normal. Even when everything is done right, sometimes the key to success remains a mystery.

Following the Vienna Sausage Company story Todd told the story of 618-10 and 11, two contaminated waste sites at Hanford that were discovered in the mid-1990’s when contaminated gloves started emerging from the soil next to the parking lot at Energy Northwest (the powerplant that leases land from the Department of Energy in the 300 Area).

We reviewed the Forum framing statement focused on the literal and figurative infrastructure of Hanford, and how language, art, science, and acronyms are all a part of what makes Hanford unique.  Todd shared that this Forum focuses on looking back and looking forward to examine what is necessary to overcome barriers and drive success.  Part of the morning’s discussion and stories point to what is known and unknown, and what isn’t written down.  The discussion opened up to the full group, inviting everyone, especially newer folks, to share their thoughts about the night before: What would you like to know or hear more about at the Forum?

Questions/Observations that Emerged

  • The extent of university/academic study of Hanford
  • What it was like during the transition from production to cleanup
  • Where and how decisions get made
  • We look at cleanup in a piecemeal fashion but it should be holistic
  • The “Hanford way” of doing things for both good and bad
  • What ishe basis for cleanup decisions? Are they risk based? If not, what would they look like if they were risk based?
  • When did you get your first sense of déjà vu?
  • Is there a relationship between contamination and toxicity in salmon?

After gathering the questions/topics we started a “FREEZE” game where someone would start talking about one of the topics and the could be tagged out by saying “freeze” and the new person would talk and others could interrupt.

We initially talked about the piecemeal topic.  Thoughts on that included:

  • Analogy that Hanford waste sites are like a quilt. If all the pieces of a quilt are not put properly together, you won’t have a quilt. You also have to think about who is maintaining the sewing machine and the floor where you are making your quilt.
  • What does interim mean? The definition of interim leads to piecemeal cleanup.
  • Funding through stovepipes exacerbates piecemeal decision making.
  • The agencies are developing a risk-budget tool to reduce piecemeal decision making.
  • Multiple regulators and regulations led to a piecemeal Tri-Party Agreement
  • Piecemeal cleanup projects can actually be positive, even though it sounds negative. Cleanup is complicated. Piecemealing can provide a win for DOE and the regulators to show progress.)
  • Regulations as written are inherently piecemealed
  • It would be nice to spend less on maintaining minimum safety (min safe) and more on real cleanup.

The Transition from Production to Cleanup

  • In the late 1980’s regulators weren’t allowed unescorted access onsite. That started to shift when the Yakama regained access to Gable Mountain in the early 1990’s.
  • 1990 was the tipping point between production and cleanup with the shutting down of N-Reactor and PUREX (following Chernobyl blowing up).
  • Government surveillance until mid-1990’s when investigations made surveillance public.
  • Policy recommendation to make it hard for someone to be sent for a fitness for duty exam, but not sure if that was every adopted.
  • Yakama elder, RJ, asking questions in the 1970’s and continuing to ask the same questions in the transition to cleanup: “How safe is the water? How is Hanford affecting the salmon, the Yakama people?” And challenging the belief that the prevailing wind direction was east.

Museum Exhibit Small Group Project

Lynn introduced the next topic. The group was divided into five small groups, each with a “Super Secret” assignment in an envelope asking: “Your mission is to develop a museum exhibit for ______ that tells a part of the Hanford story that has not been written down.” Each group had a different audience: Children Twelve and Under, Cold War Veterans, Swedish Reindeer Herders (not really just imagine your audience knows nothing about Hanford), Nuclear Tourists, and Seattle High-School Kids.  Each group went off for an hour and then we met back up before lunch to obtain general impressions about the exercise.

After lunch we gathered and shared small group report backs with the larger group:

Cold War Veterans

  • This group spent the first part of their conversation defining who was a Cold War Veteran, and complicating a more narrow reading of someone who served in the military during the Cold War. Could it also be people affected by nuclear materials, the Marshallese affected by nuclear testing, workers at Hanford and their families, etc.
  • The exhibit would use a series of first-person stories told from different perspectives on the date March 1, 1954 when the Bravo nuclear test was conducted on Enawetok Island in the Marshall Islands.
  • The perspectives and stories would be:
    • Hanford Truck Driver: telling story about dumping plutonium contaminated cardboard boxes on a garbage fire at night accidentally.
    • Marshallese Kid fishing with his father when the light from the Bravo test lit up the sky in the pre-dawn sky like it was the middle of the day. They watched snow rain down (ash from the bomb), which they brushed off their boat and fish, and continued to fish.
    • Air Force pilot who dropped the Bravo test bomb telling about that day.
    • A Yakama Nation veteran talking about his ancestors and connection with the Cold War.
    • Others could include: kids in school, people who had been subject to medical testing.
  • All of the stories would be tied together with the themes of safety, time, protection, and service.


Seattle High School Students

  • Interactive display for high-schoolers
  • Visitors would enter and have the option to where Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) because PPE is optional at Hanford.
  • They would enter through a missile silo that would be dank and dark and full of spider webs and as they walk they would see a flashing control panel, a criticality alarm would go off, there would be lots of things that would indicate the one-of-a-kind nature of Hanford cleanup.
  • Visitors would encounter different examples of careers/skills needed at Hanford.
  • The displays of the environmental contamination would create a sense of urgency linking the past, present, and future.
  • They would also see maps that indicate how Hanford has affected the entire world and how that there is no single story about Hanford.
  • A display would show how citizen participation has changed what occurred at Hanford.
  • There would not just be scientific and technical stories but also cultural stories.
  • Visitors would reach a room where you look at a map on the ceiling of waste plumes and you would have to figure out what skills you need to cleanup that site/area.
  • The exhibit would be supplemented by web-based experiences and a traveling mobile-exhibit that would travel around the region.

Swedish Reindeer Herders

  • This exhibit would have a tribally-approved artistically designed exhibit of a salmon made up of hundreds or thousands of small interactive pictures linked to maps and information about Hanford cleanup.
  • You tap on the picture and a map shows you information on multiple layers. You can pursue additional details by clicking on the map.
  • The maps take you to everywhere in the world that Hanford is connected to (Japan, Marshall Islands, Los Alamos)
  • Everyone could make their own map.
  • Includes a participation map that shows how groups like (Hanford Advisory Board, Hanford Concerns Council, public interest groups) changed the story of Hanford.
  • Potential for this to be a traveling museum.

Twelve and Under

  • A train-ride from the past to the distant future. Arbitrarily they picked 1990 and decided to go until the year 2100.
  • The exhibit was called “Hand’s on Hanford: Building the Future”
  • There would be various educational dioramas during the ride, including:
    • What was here before?
    • The operations years
    • Cleanup
    • The leftover danger from long-lived radioactivity
  • One possible stop would be a hot cell robot arm activity.
  • The train ride would end at a future Hanford post-cleanup stop.
  • A sandbox with markers and monuments representing the post-cleanup Hanford site would be used to survey children’s perceptions indicating danger, allow them to design their own marker with a 3-D printer and have buzzers under some markers that would indicate contamination when stepped on. They could also place houses, schools, and playground in appropriate (non-contaminated) places in the sandbox.

Nuclear Tourists

  • Title: Atomic Scale Hanford untold stories
  • Exhibits would be life-size mock ups, videos with virtual reality, touchable and interactive, a 3-D ride and an escape room.
  • Topics to be addressed in the exhibit:
    • The cycle of creating nuclear materials
    • Atomic cities
    • Impacts on bodies
    • Post-mortem medical studies of bodies.
    • Environmental connection
    • Cleanup
  • A tour through the exhibit would look like this:
    • Start: You would enter in a dark tunnel, a simulated uranium mine, that would communicate tribal impacts from uranium mining.
    • Then you would enter the mock-ups of secret cities such as Hanford and Oak Ridge, which in addition to the production of nuclear materials, would educate the visitor on tribal and civil rights impacts.
    • Then a room that would outline the history of the Cold War with videos.
    • Then into a room with a mock up of the reactor core.
    • Then a glovebox or mechanical arm display that allowed the visitor to fish for plutonium and figuratively be exposed to radiation.
    • Then the visitor would enter a dosimetry scan device while video projections of those who had been scanned flash on the walls, telling oral histories of what they were thinking about while being scanned.
    • Then the visitor would see the “phantoms” the fake body parts injected with radioactive substances used to calibrate the dosimetry machine.
    • The visitor would enter the scalar jump room – where there is a button they can press that takes you to Hanford, the Marshall Islands, inside the body, etc.
    • The exhibit would end with an escape room simulating a congressional hearing on a nuclear topic. Will you ever get out?

‘One Thing We’d Change’ Exercise

Todd introduced the next exercise saying it would be the most straight-forward Forum exercise but very difficult. Each group is tasked with coming to consensus on one thing they would change at Hanford.  Subsequently in the large group in plenary session, we would discuss:

  • What the change improves at Hanford.
  • How it improves the current situation.
  • How it would impact the future.

Each group had an hour to reach consensus on their proposed change.  Back in the large group each small group shared their changes which included:

  • End self-regulation at Hanford.
  • Change the paradigm from performance to safety.
  • Incentivize making decisions together.
  • Have consensus on the end-state, both cleanup and future use (two groups chose this).

Then Lynn opened up the floor for a free-flowing discussion aimed at answering the above questions.

The End Self-Regulation Group provided detail on their proposed change, including:

  • Amend the Atomic Energy Act and RCRA to remove radiation exemptions.
  • Provide OSHA and WISHA oversight.
  • Make the Hanford Site subject to MTCA.

In answering the question: “What does the change make better?” this group indicated that it would:

  • Provide for EPA and State regulation of all hazards at Hanford.
  • Enforceable standards for all of Hanford cleanup (e.g. tank waste).
  • Better regulation of worker health and safety.

In the future it would provide:

  • Better definition of the end-state.
  • Predictability in cleanup goals.
  • Lead to a cultural shift onsite.
  • Increase the influence of affected communities.
  • Stabilize funding.

The Change the Paradigm Group elaborated by sharing:

  • It would reduce the fear of reprisal for workers sharing concerns.
  • Increase employee morale, trust and save money in the long run. Thereby increasing the integrity of the cleanup.
  • Also incentivize a partnership between management and workers.

The Incentivize Making Decisions Together Change was discussed by the larger group, including the definitions of “incentivize” and “together.”  Generally, the group agreed that:

  • Broad based core teams made up of multiple interests that would advise decision makers in a timely fashion would improve cleanup decision making.
  • This change would enable everyone to be aimed at the same cleanup goal.
  • It would increase the influence of regulators, Tribes, public interest organizations, thereby building consensus to support cleanup decisions.

The Consensus on Cleanup and Future Land Use End-States Change was discussed by the large group, including points on:

  • Acknowledging the utility and difficulty in reaching this consensus.
  • Consensus would set the target for cleanup success and prevent cleanup from being the moving target it is today.
  • The conflict and lack of agreement among trustees in the current Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process was cited as an example of the difficult nature of reaching consensus on end state issues.

We took a break before dinner and reminded everyone to come back at 7:15pm for an evening activity involving teams.

Game Night

We reconvened and assigned everyone to five teams for a scavenger hunt. Each team had to choose a plastic dinosaur, name it and then everyone took off to get as many of the scavenger hunt items as they could within 30 minutes. Examples from the scavenger hunt included getting a video of someone not in our group holding the dino and saying a fact about Hanford, a photo of your dino swimming, eating popcorn, and with a northwest icon.

Groups were surprisingly speedy – clocking back in as fast as 10 minutes after we started having gotten everything on the list. Dino Rock was the fastest clocking in at 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

The final activity was using 100 scrabble tiles to make a scrabble board with as many Hanford words as possible in 5 minutes. Team Thundercats won the scrabble contest. After that we opened up to just spending time together and telling stories.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Wednesday in Review    

Todd and Lynn synthesized the outcomes of the previous day. Two themes that emerged were the barriers to exiting and entering Hanford, evidenced by the museum exhibit designs that included tunnels, and other physical barriers to entering and exiting the exhibit. The decision to include physical barriers for entry and exit was noted to be representative of the real and imagined barriers to entering the world of Hanford and getting trapped there.

The second takeaway from Wednesday, was the tension and interplay between the micro and the macro at Hanford, evidenced by discussions around piecemeal decision making, vs. the desire to more holistically look at the site.  Also the museum designs all included the importance of embodying the Hanford story and the individual story and at the same time, emphasizing Hanford’s global reach and impacts.

Changing the Paradigm

Todd then asked the question: Is there somewhere at Hanford or elsewhere where safety has been appropriately incentivized over performance? Individually everyone had a few minutes to write down examples that came to mind.  Everyone was invited to share an example they came up with. Examples included:

  • Savannah River Site, where entrenched, unsafe work practices were corrected through an extended stop-work period with retraining. Despite the stoppage of work, long term production and safety improved.
  • Fortune 100 companies have studied and implemented safe work principles and discovered that performance actually increased when the safe work principles were adopted.
  • Another example that demonstrated the importance of leadership, was how Admiral Rickover required his subordinates to report safety issues and their resolution and if they could not identify a safety issue they were disciplined.
  • Historically Hanford workers have had no authority to stop work nor measures to protect their safety when incidents occur in other locations offsite. Now, stop work authority is available to all employees.
  • Creation of a safe, anonymous place to raise a concern by setting up a generic user computer in the employee lunchroom, after realizing that employees wouldn’t share real feedback or concerns in any survey mechanism due to lack of trust and fear of reprisal.
  • Shift to daily safety briefings so people don’t feel like “it’s just me.”
  • Lock out, Tag out example. The system is fragile unless everyone participates.

Lynn asked the question “Who does prioritize performance over safety?” Responses included:

  • People who are performance focused, don’t see themselves as paying safety short shrift.
  • Performance incentives are financially rewarded, safety doesn’t have the same explicit financial rewards.

Assumptions about the Future

Todd and Lynn introduced our final topic which was, “How to create a future in which the changes we envision could occur.”  Small groups discussed this at tables, followed by large group discussion.  Discussion points included:

  • Mission Support Alliance (MSA), Department of Energy (DOE) and Unions are rededicating themselves to apprenticeship programs, to ensure future generations of trades workers will be available.
  • The approach to passing on knowledge from generation to generation may need to change. Hanford is an expert-based culture that relies more on banking-type education as opposed to problem-posing type education. Problem posing makes space for new voices and new ideas and would support more innovative cleanup and destabilize the Hanford expert model.
  • The next generation needs to be met where they are; there is less value placed on monetary gain, and there are not expectations for staying in one job for an extended period of time. There is more of a culture of job mobility and new experiences.
  • The political realities of Hanford emphasize the need to find new communities that care about Hanford.
  • We need to redefine what it means to be engaged at Hanford. You don’t have to be a lifer.
  • It is likely the high-level waste definition will change to be hazard based and not source based.
  • It is likely that Hanford will receive less funding in the future than it does today.
  • Closure of other sites (Fernald, Rocky Flats) will likely set the precedent for leaving more waste in the ground and groundwater and defining cleanup as the removal of structures.
  • Continued collaboration and conversation is the path to cleanup success.


In closing, we thanked everyone for taking the time out of their busy lives to step back and reflect and engage in conversations about Hanford.  Everyone was invited to fill out a feedback form. Following the meeting Liz agreed to send everyone the list of participants with email addresses.  In the coming weeks, a meeting summary and compiled feedback will be created and shared via email.






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